There are hordes of obvious benefits to studying abroad, but is it really that important? Of course, the answer will vary depending on who you ask. Before you start researching study abroad programs and looking for scholarships, it's crucial to have a clear idea of why you want to study abroad and what you want to get out of the experience.
How studying abroad will impact your future
If you ask Rick Steves, he'll absolutely say that study abroad is a necessity (in fact, he has, in an article in USA Today!). According to Steves, "our national security rests upon the foundation of a well-educated electorate with a broad and sophisticated worldview."
Study abroad opens students’ minds, Steves says, exposing them to different people and cultures and leading them on the path to understanding, away from the fear that is so prevalent in today’s society. Students who travel overseas learn to embrace diversity, rather than fear or oppress it.
Steves also notes the significance of international education in making students more competitive in the job market once they graduate. In an increasingly global workplace, employers want employees “who are flexible, multilingual, and comfortable in multicultural settings,” says Steves - the very skills developed during study abroad.
So why isn't everyone studying abroad?
There are other things to take into account here. One is that study abroad is a luxury today - it is not accessible to everyone. There are an ever-growing number of scholarships and opportunities for those that are underrepresented in study abroad - whether it's low-income students or students in majors that generally don't allow for the time or necessary credits to study abroad. However, there are still a lot of students who feel that studying abroad is not an option for them.
Another issue is the way that study abroad programs have evolved. In the spirit of making it easier and more appealing to study abroad, some programs have taken all the challenge, and therefore opportunities for learning, growth, and cultural immersion, out of their programs. Today, students can travel across the globe and spend all of their time with other Americans, taking classes in English from American professors - possibly even taking the same classes they would take at their home university, with little to no focus on the host country. These students leave with fond memories of a fun time partying it up in an exotic country, but no language skills, no real understanding of another culture, and no strong ties or relationships with the country and its people - the very aspects of study abroad that make it so beneficial and an important investment of time, money, and energy!
(No need to live with regrets, but my list of 25 things I wish I'd done differently while abroad may help you make more intentional decisions when you're doing your semester abroad.)
Study abroad opens students’ minds, exposing them to different people and cultures and leading them on the path to understanding, away from the fear that is so prevalent in today’s society. Students who travel overseas learn to embrace diversity, rather than fear or oppress it.
Why studying abroad is still valuable
As globalization continues, as our country becomes more deeply involved in world issues that span a huge range of nations and cultures, we must be able to understand and deal with the issues that arise. We need a generation of Americans who think for themselves, who question stereotypes and bigotry, who realize that America isn't always right and that there are other ways of doing things. This applies to everyone, even those who will never deal with world issues in their career or regular daily lives. Even citizens who will live in the same small town for their whole lives should have the chance to see things in a new light, and bring back new ideas and methods to their home community. Some may even argue it is our duty as US citizens to develop relationships and understandings outside of our home country.
Study abroad will also prove valuable on a more personal level because of your newly acquired unique skills (hard to claim you can function in an entirely different language environment if you've only lived in podunk middle America your whole life). Who knows, maybe that sparkling resume will give you a leg up in your next job move - especially if you consider working towards a top 5 post study-abroad career.
Alright alright, you've convinced me. What are my next steps?
Studying abroad doesn't have to be an impossibly large stack of tasks to accomplish, though it will take a little bit of work. Your best bet is to start asking around and getting advice: look to your academic advisor, your university's study abroad office, your friends or family who have gone abroad before, your good pal the internet.
You might start researching more concretely what types of programs are out there (and no doubt start getting suuuper excited!). Here is some bare bones advice from the Go team:
Quick Tips to Make Study Abroad Happen
- Start planning early, and research your destination carefully.
- Apply for as many scholarships as you can (Psst.. GoOverseas offers one)!
- Save up money before departing so you don't have to worry too much about finances.
- Make the most of every opportunity while abroad.
- Keep building on your international experiences once you return home, and bulk up that resume.
Here you can find 9 more tips to make your study abroad prep go as smooth as possible. If you're still struggling to figure out where to begin when tackling this endeavor, we've done a little work for you to give you a head start. Check out our suggested programs below, or peruse through our massive database to find a program that best suits your academic goals and needs. And remember - you don't have to do a study abroad program just because its the one your friends are doing! There's no "one-size-fits-all" for study abroad, and you'd be wise to give it a go by yourself.
International exchange overall, stepping out of one's comfort zone and seeing the world in a new way, is a necessity.
It's true that study abroad may not be the answer for everyone. For some, a short-term professional exchange may be the best kind of international experience. For others, an experience volunteering, interning, or teaching abroad may be more suitable. These are great options, especially for those who don't feel they can afford a traditional study abroad program. Living in another country, whatever the circumstance, offers a whole new perspective, such as what it's like to survive on a smaller, hard-earned income, something that much of the world's population has to deal with.
So some might criticize that study abroad is just an expensive leisure activity and not a necessity. But international exchange overall, stepping out of one's comfort zone and seeing the world in a new way, is a necessity. Whether you're a college student or a retiree, getting out into the world and gaining understanding outside of your typical worldview is a life-changing experience that should not be missed. And hopefully one that will one day lead to a more peaceful world.